Category Archives: BLU-RAY

Review – The Fanatic

FILM REVIEWTHE FANATICWith John Travolta, Devon Sawa, Ana Golja, Jacob Grodnik, James Paxton. Written by Dave Bekerman, Fred Durst. Directed by Fred Durst. Rated R for some strong violence, and language throughout. 89 minutes.

Producer/teacher/sometimes-actor John Houseman used to tell those starting out on their dramatic careers that there are two paths they could follow: taking every role that came along or picking and choosing parts that would challenge them. The catch, he’d note, was that looking back over such careers, each offered about the same number of standout roles mixed in with the misfires.

Thus we get to John Travolta. If his career was an amusement park ride it would be a roller coaster. Over the last forty years he’s had landmark roles in movies like “Saturday Night Fever” and “Pulp Fiction,” outrageous turkeys like “Battlefield Earth” and “Gotti,” and seemingly everything in between. His latest, THE FANATIC, is somewhere in between.

In it he plays Moose, a mentally challenged man who is obsessed with action star Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa). His sole means of support seems to be as a street performer – a very odd turn as a British bobby – with his only friend a paparazzi (Ana Golja) who at least makes her celebrity obsession pay off. When Moose has an unpleasant encounter with Dunbar, she tells him about a phone app that tells where the stars live. He decides to go to Dunbar’s home. Their confrontations become increasingly nasty as the actor tries to chase away Moose, leading to a violent confrontation with unexpected results.

The movie was directed and co-written by Fred Durst, who was frontman for the rock group Limp Bizkit, apparently inspired by his own confrontation with an intrusive fan. Durst tries to take us inside Moose’s delusions and the affirmation he expects to get from his idol, but there’s no question that Moose lacks basic interpersonal skills. Moose is so sure of the purity of his motives that he greatly resents any suggestion that he’s a “stalker.”

Travolta’s performance is a daring one for a leading man, and will not work for everyone, but it’s clear this is an actor still willing to take chances. With a Three Stooges “Moe” haircut and a scraggly beard, he’s almost unrecognizable at first. It is a role where his character is debased and humiliated in pursuit of his obsession. Travolta may not always make the best choices, but his career is far from over. As when it was revived by “Pulp Fiction,” he needs another such project to come along, perhaps a better one showcasing his segue into character roles.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Haunting of Sharon Tate

FILM REVIEWTHE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATEWith Hilary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst, Pawel Szajda,   Ryan Cargill. Written and directed by Daniel Farrands. Rated R for strong bloody violence, terror, and some language. 94 minutes.

haunting_of_sharon_tateHorror films have always been transgressive. The fact that we now consider Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” a film classic shouldn’t make us forget what a shocker it was when it was released in 1960. Such films violate our social norms either by making icons of their bloody protagonists or by depicting violence or gore or by making us feel less safe in our surroundings. In that sense, THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE is very much in that tradition.

Tate, of course, was the young actress who was married to international filmmaker Roman Polanski and pregnant with their child when she and four other people were savagely murdered at the direct order of cult leader Charles Manson by four of his acolytes.

Writer/director Daniel Farrands, known primarily for documentaries on horror series such as “Friday The 13th,” “Nightmare On Elm Street,” and “Scream,” has crafted a slick and disturbing movie based the report that long before her death, Tate had a premonition about the murders. Over the course of 90-or-so minutes, Tate (played by one-time teen star Hilary Duff) experiences the home invasion by Manson (Ben Mellish) and his gang more than once. When the actual attack occurs, Farrands takes the story in an unexpected direction, providing an unconventional conclusion to a story where we already knew how it had to turn out.

Getting Duff for the lead is something of a minor casting coup. Known for her run as “Lizzie McGuire,” and later on “Younger,” this is her first foray into horror. She plays Tate as a considerate if someone shallow young actress, whose marriage to Polanski has raised her profile. She’s troubled by her visions and concerned about the forthcoming baby. It’s a credible performance.

Had this been a film about fictional characters, it might attract some notice among horror fans, as well as some curiosity seekers interested in Duff in an unexpected role. However, it’s not. It’s about the victims of one of the most sensational crimes of the 20th century. It’s not only in living memory but several family members – including Polanski and Tate’s sister – are still alive. Instead of being just a horror movie it becomes yet another wound, using the actress’s tragic death as fodder for cheap thrills.

Farrand knows the beats of the horror films he’s patterned this on, and it could be argued that his focus is on the victim rather than the perpetrator. Manson may be a monster, but the film isn’t about him the way, say, the “Nightmare On Elm Street” movies are about the fictional Freddy Krueger. Still, there are times when one must question whether a film goes too far, even in a genre noted for pushing the boundaries.

The result is that “The Haunting Of Sharon Tate” works as a conventional horror film with a twist, but some will find that by using a real life story rather than borrowing some elements for a fictional one, it leaves a bad taste. Farrand doesn’t seem concerned, though. His next movie, currently in post-production, is “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.”•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Boss Baby

FILM REVIEWTHE BOSS BABYWith the voices of Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Miles Bakshi. Written by Michael McCullers. Directed by Tom McGrath. Rated PG for some mild rude humor. 97 minutes.

the-boss-babyLike last year’s sub-par “Storks,” THE BOSS BABY takes us to the imaginary place where babies come from for an adventure that is intended to amuse those young enough not to know any better. Fortunately, there’s a bit more wit here, so that parents who may have to endure it may find themselves being actually amused.

The movie is narrated by the adult Tim (voice of Tobey Maguire) who recounts what happened when, at age 7, he (voiced by Miles Bakshi) got a very peculiar baby brother. The Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin), shows up in a suit and tie and takes over the house, so that Tim is no longer the center of attention. However, this isn’t simply about sibling rivalry. The Boss Baby is on a mission.

Wherever babies come from in this universe, it is run like a huge corporation. Boss Baby is up for a promotion if he can uncover and foil a plot by a rival concern that might do away with babies forever. The first part of the film is Boss Baby and his infant allies in the neighborhood making life difficult for Tim. Eventually, the truth comes out, and the two join forces against the seemingly benevolent Francis Francis (Steve Buscemi), who runs the pet supply company that employs Tim’s Mom (Lisa Kudrow) and Dad (Jimmy Kimmel).

It’s all very silly with the occassional bodily function joke thrown in, since nothing suggests cutting edge humor to a four-year-old like a poop joke. However, there is some genuine cleverness in the big reveal of Francis Francis’s plot, as well as some character development as Tim and Boss Baby have to figure out a way to work together.

Based on a book by Marla Frazee, it’s a movie that doesn’t break any new ground in animation or storytelling, but fortunately, isn’t a step backwards either. The animation in on par with the more cartoonish computer animated offerings these days, and children will enjoy the involved bit about the sorting operation which prepares the newborns for their new lives. There’s also some amusing gags on how much babies get away with on the basis of their being cute.

However, where animated films like “Inside Out,” “Zootopia,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” and “The Batman LEGO Movie” have become destinations not only for kids but for adults as well, “The Boss Baby” falls short. It should engage the youngsters but will leave more sophisticated viewers–say, those older than eight or nine–wanting something with more substance, or at least more jokes. Adults hoping that Baldwin will turn into the other boss baby he’s been playing on “Saturday Night Live” will find none of that here. This is a kid’s cartoon, pure and simple, and they’re welcome to it.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released this month. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Batman: The Killing Joke

. With the voices of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise. Written by Brian Azzarello. Directed by Sam Liu. Rated R for some bloody images and disturbing content. 76 minutes.

“Just because it’s a classic doesn’t mean it’s good,” hisses Mark Hamill’s Joker in this icky animated adaptation of a seminal 1988 graphic novel that was perhaps better left alone. BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE is a singularly unpleasant viewing experience, confounding in its wrongheadedness and noxious in its cruelty. The project reunites the principal voice actors from “Batman: The Animated Series” and yokes the beloved afterschool TV program’s aesthetic to a miserably dated exercise in shock value for its own sake. Basically this is a Batman cartoon that looks and sounds like the one you used to watch when you were a little kid, except now it’s rated R and full of torture and sexual assault. When it was over, I wanted nothing more than to take a shower.

Published a couple of years after Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” announced that superheroes aren’t just for children anymore, writer Alan Moore and illustrator Brian Bolland’s exceedingly nasty “The Killing Joke” provided a tragic backstory for Gotham City’s most malevolent clown and pushed the Caped Crusader to the brink of murdering his longtime nemesis. After escaping once again from Arkham Asylum, The Joker attempts to demonstrate that only one bad day stands between good men and madness by shooting Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara (who is secretly Batgirl) through the spine and torturing her father in a carnival funhouse decorated with photographs of the girl’s bloody, naked body.

As you might imagine, this all seemed very heady when I was thirteen years old, dressed in black all the time and hated my parents for getting divorced. But as influential as it unfortunately remains to this day, “The Killing Joke” has not aged particularly well. Moore (who refused to allow his name on this adaptation) often apologizes for writing it and in a 2009 interview lamented that superhero stories “are stuck, it seems, in this kind of depressive ghetto of grimness and psychosis. I’m not too proud of being the author of that regrettable trend.” (And to think he said this seven years before “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”)

What pushes this adaptation over the line from merely misguided into madness is an all-new, twenty-eight minute prologue scripted by Brian Azzarello and apparently intended to give Barbara Gordon something to do in the story besides just get shot. It’s one of the most cluelessly misogynistic portrayals I have ever seen, presenting Batgirl as a bumbling flake with a massive crush on her emotionally aloof crime-fighting mentor. (She even gets a crassly stereotypical gay best friend to confide in, because I guess this is a ‘90s sitcom.) After a gangster’s perverted son named Paris France (for real) becomes sexually obsessed with Barbara, she and Master Wayne wind up boning on a rooftop beneath a hilariously disapproving stone gargoyle. After that, Batman stops returning her calls and she eventually quits being Batgirl.

Azzarello’s additions turn an already problematic piece into an atrocity. Leaving aside out the bizarre notion that a monastic, self-flagellating hero like Batman would bang his best friend’s daughter and then ghost the poor kid, this production is hyper-sexualized in an incredibly creepy way, with leering butt-shots of countless cartoon hookers and lingering, appreciative views of Barbara in her underwear. Batgirl is constantly objectified, humiliated into giving up her career, then ultimately paralyzed, so “The Killing Joke” now reads as if she’s being punished for sleeping with her father figure. It’s telling that Azzarello never bothers to show us that Barbara survived the shooting, but he does add a scene between Batman and some dockside prostitutes heavily implying that she was raped.

So who is this movie for? The crude animation tries to mimic the panels of the original comic but it’s missing all the richness and detail of Bolland’s drawings. Similarly, Moore’s florid dialogue was obviously meant to be read and not recited, as voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill trip over speech patterns distractingly different than the ones we heard in the first half-hour. (The only one who pulls it off is “Twin Peaks” alum Ray Wise as Commissioner Gordon, but maybe that’s just because we’re used to hearing him cry about his daughter.) Why again was “The Killing Joke,” of all Batman stories, translated into the style of a popular animated program for children?

Earlier this month, several female colleagues of mine were viciously harassed online for days on end after giving negative reviews to the abysmal DC Comics adaptation “Suicide Squad.” (A few dudes I know got some blowback, but the majority was heaped upon the ladies.) It’s an objectively terrible movie, incoherent in ways I never imagined possible from a major studio release. Characters are introduced–or not introduced–then introduced again, with so many major plot points elided while others are incessantly repeated; it is extremely difficult to believe that anyone at Warner Brothers could have actually watched “Suicide Squad” from start to finish and deemed it in releasable condition.

One must wonder what it is about these superhero sagas that inspires their devotees and defenders to call my friends the c-word while threatening them with sexual assault? The biggest laugh in “Suicide Squad” comes when Ben Affleck’s Batman punches Margot Robbie in the face, which is one of the few times the camera isn’t pointed at her ass. These adolescent power fantasies have grown toxic, and their treatment of women reveals a pathological, deep-seated fear and loathing on the part of fans and creators. After all, what kind of healthy, grown adult old enough to see an R-rated movie wants to watch a cartoon in which Batgirl gets crippled and raped?•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Fringe: Season 1

Starring Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble. Created by J.J. Abrams.

North Shore Movies has given this set a score of 4 out of 5.The best way to understand “Fringe” is to take it as “Lost” creator/”Star Trek” helmer J. J. Abrams doing his version of “The X-Files.” Since he seems to have a firmer grasp on storytelling than Chris Carter, it’s off to a good start with the promise of even better times ahead. “X-Files” had many great episodes but fell apart as it kept teasing its “mythology” (its internal and unfolding mystery) without ever getting to a real payoff. Abrams seems to have learned from Carter’s mistake.

In the pilot, we meet FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), a young, beautiful and no-nonsense professional who finds herself involved investigating weird and possibly supernatural occurrences. The first case we see has to do with a plane flying into Boston where all the passengers and crew have died from their bodies melting. Quickly, three story lines emerge for the series. First is the arc story about who or what is responsible for many of the weird things encountered week-by-week. This is not fully resolved at season’s end, but we do know it is related to a mysterious corporation where executive Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) promises cooperation but is obviously being less than forthcoming. In the season-ending cliffhanger, we find this company may be more powerful than can be possibly be imagined when Olivia demands a showdown with Nina’s boss William Bell (Leonard Nimoy). The final image – not to be spoiled here – raises more questions than it answers.

Another story is more or less resolved. Olivia has been having an affair with fellow agent John Scott (Mark Valley) who is killed, but keeps reappearing to Olivia, with hints that his agenda went beyond his role of FBI agent. This is played out over much of the first season but eventually Olivia discovers why John is haunting her and the story seems to come to a conclusion.

The third story is essentially the running plotline of the series. As Olivia encounters weird science week after week, it’s clear that she’s in over her head. Her boss (Lance Reddick) tries to protect her from outside interference but sometimes has to restrict her pursuit of the truth. He seems to be a good guy but one operating under constraints. Fellow agent Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo) starts out as a minor supporting character but develops over the course of the first season. We see he’s committed to doing what’s right and supporting Olivia, even if he doesn’t completely have access to the bigger picture.

Instead she is forced to rely on Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a scientist who – conveniently – knows some of the players and worked on some of the experiments that Olivia is now encountering, but who went mad as a hatter and ended up institutionalized. He’s out now, but still not fully connected to reality. He’ll be visiting a gruesome crime scene and start musing on a favorite dessert. Walter, though, has the knowledge and scientific insights Olivia needs, so she also needs the help of Walter’s estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson) who helps her keep Walter focused and on track.

The first season showed a great deal of imagination with John Noble a standout as the wacky Walter. Abrams and company resist the urge to make this a show centering on him, so that when he does show up he’s a welcome presence.

Anna Torv will be an acquired taste for some and she may seem a bit young for the responsibilities handed her character, but over the course of the season Olivia’s character is developed and Torv seems to be more comfortable playing her as a conflicted agent rather than a pretty, young heroine. Joshua Jackson may have it easiest, getting to play the outsider commenting on the action, with only hints at a possible romantic entanglement with Olivia or, perhaps, someone close to her.

“Fringe” had a good first season, setting up its premises, and having some truly eerie episodes like “Inner Child,” about a weird hairless boy found living by himself, or “Ability” where victims find their facial orifices sealing up leaving them faceless corpses. The trick for Abrams and company now will be to tell us a story that’s going somewhere, instead of simply being another series spinning its wheels.•••

DVD Special Features Include:

* Evolution: The Genesis of “Fringe” featurette – The creators of the show discuss how the series unfolded and the qualities that make it so unique
* Behind the Real Science of “Fringe” featurette – From teleportation to re-animation, Fringe incorporates recent discoveries in science. Consulting experts and scientists who are the authorities in their field address the areas of science which are the inspiration for the show.
* A Massive Undertaking: The Making of “Fringe” (on select episodes) – An in-depth exploration of how select episodes came to be made: from the frozen far reaches of shooting the pilot in Toronto, to the weekly challenges of bringing episodes to air
* The Casting of “Fringe” – The story, as told by producers and cast, of how Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble and others came to be cast in the series.
* “Fringe” Visual Effects featurette – Goes deep into the creation of the shared dream state with some of the biggest VFX shots of the show.
* Dissected Files: Unaired Scenes
* Unusual Side Effects: Gag Reel
* Deciphering the Scene
* Roberto Orci Production Diary
* Gene the Cow montage
* Three Full-Length Commentaries from writers/producers, including J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtman, J.R. Orci, David Goodman, Bryan Burk, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner

Additional Blu-Ray Bonus Features:
* “Fringe” Pattern Analysis – Take a closer look at 6 select scenes from Season 1 with experts who dissect each scene with notes, photos, and diagrams.
* BD-Live enabled features include Media Center, My Commentary, and commentary on Season 1 finale episode.

Season Two of “Fringe” premieres on FOX Thursday, Sept. 17.

Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.

Review – Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1 (Blu-Ray)

st_tos_1-brscore_40As if the previous DVD issue wasn’t cool enough, Paramount has topped themselves with this gorgeous Blu-Ray edition of the entire first season (1966-67) of Gene Roddenberry’s way-smart but oft-mocked space-blazing saga. One of the few Blu-Rays to master in DTS-HD 7.1 (most home theater systems don’t have the extra pair of speakers to accommodate), the set looks and sounds amazing, with the previous thoughtful special features (including preview trailers for each episode) ported over and spread across the seven discs:

* Disc 1 ::: Featurette – “Spacelift: Transporting ‘Trek’ Into The 21st Century”; “Starfleet Access” episode – “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (features pop-up trivia and picture-in-picture commentaries)

* Disc 3 ::: Featurette – “Reflections On Spock”; Starfleet Access episode – “The Menagerie, Parts 1 & 2”

* Disc 4 ::: Featurette – “Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner”; Starfleet Access episode – “Balance Of Terror”

* Disc 5 ::: Featurette – “To Boldly Go…Season One”; Featurette – “The Birth Of A Timeless Legacy”

* Disc 6 ::: Interactive Enterprise Inspection (a remote navigable walk through the famous spaceship); Featurette – “Sci-Fi Visionaries”; Starfleet Access episode – “Space Seed”

* Disc 7 ::: Featurette – “Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies And Special Memories”; Featurette – “Kiss ‘N’ Tell: Romance In The 23rd Century”; Starfleet Access episode – “Errand Of Mercy”

Best episodes: “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (featuring a way-hot 27-year-old mini-skirted Sally Kellerman) and the Harlan Ellison-penned time travel tale “City On The Edge Of Forever.” Fortunately, viewers have the option to watch the episodes as they were aired, as most die-hards will avoid the remastered special effects version like the Gorn.

Sure, the souped-up set is timed to coincide with the theatrical release of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot (and opens with the trailer), but such is the way of capitalism, and in the words of Harvey Fierstein, “Is that so wrong?” It’s priced right, too, available online for around $65.00, making it relatively painless to boldly go.

As a footnote, “Trek” fans — or fans of gay culture, for that matter — will want to check out the impressive fan-made “Trek” episodes available for free download at In particular, peep the best of the batch “World Enough And Time,” which gives Sulu, played by George Takei himself, believe it or not, a much-deserved story arc of his own. The most recent episode, “Blood And Fire, Part 1” features a story in which Captain Kirk tries to keep his gay nephew, who is serving (and loving) on the Enterprise, out of harm’s way. These are passionate, professional productions, made only for the love of the thing, as an unspoken understanding with the copyright holders prevents creators of such works from realizing any profit from them. See also the just-released “Lord Of The Rings” fan film, “The Hunt For Gollum”.•••

Robert Newton is a veteran film critic and the editor of He runs the Cape Ann Community Cinema in Gloucester, and makes novelty records (as “Fig”). He believes popcorn should be its own food group.